Reviewing has been a hot subject among kidlit bloggers lately, ever since the magazine n+1 came up with an article about a week ago which criticized—though not in such direct terms—bloggers of not being objective, honest enough with their reviews, of not posting enough negative reviews and of lacing their positive reviews with facile praise. The main question seems to be: is it possible to be unbiased in a cozy environment where the people who post friendly comments under the bloggers’ posts are often the same people who request reviews from these bloggers? In other words, is it possible to be objective in the blogosphere, where authors, publishers, publicists, reviewers and librarians are in friendly terms with each other in such blog communities as Live Journal?
In a perfect world a reviewer should never review a book by a person he/she knows. But, as usual, more often than not, what is ideal in theory is not realistic in the real world, and this ‘sin’ is not only committed by bloggers, but also by professional reviewers who write for online and print review publications.
Another issue seems to be the lack of format which many (maybe most?) bloggers have when writing reviews. Unlike the ‘legitimate’ reviewers who seem to have a preference for a ‘standard’ structure—an interesting lead/opening sentence, a short summary of the plot without ever giving away spoilers or the ending, and an intelligent, fair, tactful evaluation—the bloggers write about books anyway they want. They have the freedom to write in any length or style without a thought to format—even to the point of giving away spoilers or relating the ending of a book. This freedom comes with the territory of being a blogger. But then, the questions arise… Are bloggers ‘real’ reviewers? What defines a review? After all, there are many types of reviews—academic and long, light and short, and snippets like those in such publications as Library Journal.
Different review sites and publications have different guidelines. Are blogger reviews a new, different type of review? Should we draw a distinction between bloggers who are simply readers and post ‘reader reviews’ and ‘legitimate’ reviewers who post ‘real’ ones on their blogs? After all, just like on Amazon, there are reader reviews and reviewer reviews. Are bloggers the lowly counterparts of legitimate reviewers? Is this an elitist attitude?
I find these questions fascinating because I think there are no easy answers. As usual, opening a discussion about what is right and wrong is like opening a can of worms.
A couple of years ago, this dilemma started with the emerging online review sites... I remember how librarians and bookstores often dismissed them as ‘not legitimate’. Online review sites have come a long way. Now it's the bloggers who are being attacked.
Ultimately, I think we're not giving enough credit to the discerning reader of reviews. It's so easy to tell a good review from a cheesy one guilty of facile praise! There are good and bad reviewers everywhere. Serious blogger reviewers aren't going to be stupid enough to post overly positive reviews because if the reader buys a book based on that review and then finds that book to be poorly written, that blogger will lose all credibility and that reader won't come back to this blogger for more reviews. Honesty and fairness go with our job as reviewers, without it, we're nothing but weak, cheap publicity. That is not to say we should be nasty or mean... which brings me to the writing of negative reviews...
I personally think there are too many good books out there to be spending time writing about the bad ones (even negative reviews are a type of publicity!). Unless it's a book that has been written by a famous author and/or heavily hyped, I won't bother posting negative reviews on my blog and newsletters (this wouldn't be the case, however, if the book was assigned by a review site/publication, in which case I wouldn’t have a choice but to write the negative review).
One thing the blogging technology has done is bring books and literature closer to the public and, let’s face it, the average person is so busy and/or has such a short attention span that long, insightful reviews are not the most practical thing in the world. Blogger reviews are like quick tasty treats of information for people on the run who enjoy reading about books. In the end, and in spite of the ‘slippery’ questions mentioned above, I’m all for anything that brings literature closer to the public.
Mayra Calvani is the co-author of the forthcoming book, THE SLIPPERY ART OF BOOK REVIEWING, soon from www.TwilightTimesBooks.com